Toronto FC are back in action on Saturday evening with an away date in Ohio against the Columbus Crew at Lower.com Field.
The return to the MLS regular season did not go to plan last weekend. CF Montreal scored twice in the first half, capitalizing on Toronto errors. TFC pulled one back in the second half, an excellent team move capped off by a stunning Federico Bernardeschi finish, but then a red card and penalty kick saw the visitors reinstate the two-goal lead. A second goal from Bernardeschi came too late for a comeback before the final whistle was blown.
“The feel after Montreal was disappointment, we were gutted to not win,” said Terry Dunfield on Thursday. “We put a lot of work into that game.”
“When we reviewed the game it was almost two games in one. The momentum graph showed that we started really well, there wasn't a ton in it, then we concede two tough goals,” he continued “The team's reaction in the second half was fantastic. We score a really well-worked goal and you feel like maybe another one's coming.”
“We had Montreal on the back foot and then we give up just a really tough goal,” added the interim coach. “Each time you watch it back it's harder to watch, but there was a nice spirit even with ten men. The guys kept going and were able to get the fans a nice goal at the end of the game.”
The mini-preseason the team went through during the Leagues Cup break was evident in the push the side found late in the match. But with a new coach, new players, new ideas, errors will come: Toronto were caught by a quickly taken free-kick, a goal-kick that fell short, and a good turn in the centre-circle for the three goals scored by Montreal.
“The errors are ones we'd like back,” said Dunfield. “We know that.”
“Taking some risk and doing new stuff, this is part of the process. I'm happy that we can see change and if we're able to mitigate some of this risk we should be okay,” he continued. “The reference points of Columbus will be similar to Montreal’s in that we're playing against a back five, a midfield two, and quite a narrow front three. There will be some idiosyncrasies to how we play, but there won't be a ton of difference there. We were very good with the ball in the second half, it's just growing from the Montreal game.”
The disappointment was in part a reflection of how much was put into preparing for that match.
“We had three weeks to work on our game; we were very focused on that Montreal game,” said Alonso Coello, who came on in the second half. “Obviously, the result didn't go the way that we wanted, but there's some positives that we can take. We have to keep working and hopefully in two days we can get our first win and then go from there.”
“It was Bernardeschi’s best performance for Toronto FC on the back of some really good work the last month,” noted Dunfield. “There was no surprise he goes out and performs like that.”
Toronto welcomed Michael Bradley back into the starting XI. Lorenzo Insigne and Victor Vázquez came off the bench, while Prince Owusu battled through illness to make his debut with the side.
But there was a spirit there too.
“At 2-0 down, when it got hard, we kept going. Even going down to ten men and giving up a tough goal there and a red card the team persevered,” Dunfield highlighted. “There's been a lot of kicks to the groin, but it’s part of the process, this is how you come together. We need to take some of these punches and keep moving forward. Columbus will be another opportunity to keep pushing.”
The team feels they are heading in the right direction.
“The results haven't been going our way,” said Coello. “We've had some good stretches of play, which have shown what kind of team we want to be and how we want to play in order to start getting some results.”
“The sooner that we start getting them, the better,” he added.
Having not played in three weeks, a flurry of three matches leads into another pause with the September international break just around the corner. After Columbus, Toronto will host the Philadelphia Union back at BMO Field on Wednesday. Their next action after that comes on September 16 with the visit of Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Columbus and Toronto played out a 1-1 draw at BMO Field back on March 11, TFC’s home opener, with Deandre Kerr opening the scoring and Jimmy Medranda equalizing in the 75th minute to force a share of the spoils.
Columbus enter Saturday’s match firmly above the playoff line, sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference on 39 points. Wilfried Nancy’s side returned from the Leagues Cup with a 3-0 win over in-state rivals FC Cincinnati last weekend, an impressive result given it was just the third loss of the season for the Supporters’ Shield race leaders.
“Columbus are very good with the ball,” assessed Dunfield. “Tactically they spread out across the five channels and their movement is excellent, they look to open teams. We worked today a little bit on how we plan to defend against Columbus and also how we wanted to attack.”
The Crew have undergone some midseason changes with goalkeeper Eloy Room, defender Miloš Degenek, and top scorer Lucas Zelarayán all moving on. The side added wide attacker Julian Gressel from Vancouver, defender Rudy Camacho from Montreal, and forward Diego Rossi from Turkish club Fenerbahçe – the Uruguayan returns to MLS where he won the 2020 Golden Boot with LAFC.
Cristian Ramírez leads the side with eight goals in 20 appearances; Cucho Hernández, who has six goals in 17 outings, leads the side with ten assists.
“They’re a team that plays very well on the ball. They make the field very big, they play wide, they have good people up front,” outlined Alonso. “It’s going to be very important for us to take control of the game when we have the ball and then defensively try and make it as hard for them as possible to get in dangerous areas.”